Model Mugging: How does a women's self-defense course inform psychotherapy?

Patricia Ambrosio (2002)

This dissertation describes a qualitative study of interviews with 59 graduates of a full-impact self-defense course for women, Model Mugging (MM). The study, rooted in a feminist epistemology, focused on the similarities, differences, and complementary points between MM and psychotherapy. This dissertation offers descriptions and interpretive summaries of the data; excerpts from the interviews are used to illustrate major findings. Results of the study suggest that for this particular sample, MM represents an excellent adjunct to psychotherapy. Participants' descriptions of their experiences indicated that a number of core components of MM parallel important aspects of effective psychotherapy. These include the creation of a safe environment characterized by clear boundaries and support, as well as healing contexts in which women have the opportunity to confront difficult challenges and to emerge with a sense of empowerment. Participants also described a number of factors that distinguish MM from psychotherapy. They experienced MM as more intense, more evocative of feelings, more immediate, more adrenalized, and less process-oriented than therapy. Further, participants emphasized the physical and concrete nature of the tasks in MM; they reported that MM offers the opportunity to master fears and to fight back against sexual assault. Despite--or perhaps because of--these differences, MM and psychotherapy appear to be very complementary. Many of these participants reported using MM and psychotherapy to enhance each other. In particular, participants suggested that MM enhanced psychotherapy by offering opportunities for confronting and mastering fears in a very direct and concrete fashion; psychotherapy provided a way for them to make sense of and to assimilate the intense experiences and psychological ramifications of MM. The discussion addresses the implications of this research for both psychotherapy and MM as well as the implications for social constructs of gender.